Silk Art

Hiroshi Sugimoto at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute is the Daily Pic by Blake Gopnik

Daily Pic: The Japanese master plays fast and loose with optics and marketing.

A series of silk-scarves designed for Hermes by the great Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto, on view at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute. The premise of the project is that Sugimoto took Polaroid shots of the color bands dispersed from daylight by a huge prism reflected by a mirror onto a wall. He then got Hermes to devise a new process for jet-printing the images onto silk, as a kind of representation of natural color at its most pure.

But as with everything Sugimotesque, I think his trickster self is at work. After all, the gap between the original light and the final scarf gets bigger with each intermediary step, thanks to the distortions of prism and mirror and wall and film and scan and computer processing and digital printing with chemical inks onto a substrate of machine-woven silk. (Read Sugimoto’s artist’s statement to get a sense of his conceptual tergiversations.)

Many of Sugimoto’s series pretend to get at essences but are really about the failure to do so. His two-hour photos of movies being screened elide the films they pretend to reveal. His images of seas at night, with their near-arbitrary exposures, don’t really substitute for being there. His blurred building shots are about the misdirections of pseudo-technique (he claims to focus them at a meaningless “twice infinity”).

In this case, I can’t help feeling that Sugimoto’s trickery is a way to counter the whiff of sell-out involved in this marketing project for Hermes. Let the fancy women who buy these $10,000 scarves think they’re getting an experiment in optics and art, when all they’re really getting is yet another square of colored silk.

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